The interesting thing about business travel is that sometimes it takes me to some truly neat places. Sometimes it takes me to, well, offbeat locations that have their charms. And sometimes it takes you to… malls. That was the case with a Navy client, who periodically requires me to come to a briefing in… Tysons Corner, Virginia. Which is basically several upscale shopping malls all in close proximity. Which instead of my usual, quirky destinations, often means several days of… chain food. But that said, sometimes I do encounter a chain I like. You can read my old reviews of Shake Shack from back in the days when Shake Shack only had a few locations, and for the most part I think their product actually holds up. And there are other chains I still particularly enjoy, like Wagamama. So a trip to the mall isn’t always bad. And in this case, I found a smaller chain that I actually rather enjoyed: Earls Kitchen.
As a frequent volunteer for FIRST Robotics, I often find myself having to spend the occasional weekend as a guest judge staying in towns that I’m normally close enough to that I’d just visit them during the day, but due to the early hour that Robotics kicks off, it’s nice staying close by. This also gives me an opportunity to check out some of the local towns in a bit more culinary detail. This year, I was spending a lot of time in Windham, so I ended up getting a room in Nashua. I’ve enjoyed a few places around Nashua before, like Martha’s Exchange or Vietnam Noodle House, but this time, I was craving a gyro. Many other places I’ve lived, gyro joints were a dime a dozen, but in New Hampshire for some reason, they are somewhat rare (although Manchester has a few, like the very good Gyro Spot). But I had noticed that since my last visit, Nashua had added Main St Gyro, so I had to give it a try.
Over the years, Carol and I have had some pretty good luck with raffles, so when we were attending last year’s SipTemberfest at Mad River Glen, we couldn’t resist buying tickets to the Mad River Path Association’s raffle. And indeed, a bit later when they started drawing tickets, we soon found ourselves winning a free night at the Pitcher Inn in Warren, VT. The Pitcher Inn is basically the ne plus ultra of Vermont country inns, so, a few months later, we found ourselves taking a nice mid-week vacation (the free night wasn’t good on weekends) and having a very pleasant stay at the Pitcher in their “Mallard Room”. But that also gave us an opportunity to check out their rather nice restaurant, 275 Main.
I have a soft spot for Montpelier, one of the United States’ most quiet state capitals. It’s a pleasant town, with a lot of little stores, and a decent arts scene. And, most importantly, for a modest city of its size, it actually has an impressive assortment of restaurants, ranging from classic diner (Coffee Corner, to funky Asian-inspired (Kismet), to pizza (Positive Pie II), just for starts. And in this environment, new eateries are appearing all the time, and most of them have staying power. So, when a new place shows up in Montpelier, I’m usually interested in checking it out, so a trip up to Warren VT turned involved a chance to stop by and check out a relative newcomer: Downhome.
I’ll have to say, there’s something I rather like about the particular style that California burgers have. It’s a bit of a particular style: a fairly thin and well-crisped burger patty, served up with generous layers of lettuce, onion, and tomato (I’ve been told that this is a throwback to the days when fresh tomatoes and lettuce weren’t a standard item in grocery stores), usually on a toasted bun. And, somewhat peculiar to the style (see my reviews of
After finishing up dinner at Kokko, all of the gnoshing on yakitori left us still a little hungry, and we decided that some ramen was in order. Luckily, San Mateo and the adjacent communities have no shortage of ramen joints; over a dozen of them in San Mateo alone. In fact, three of them are their own little empire, owned by Kazunori Kobayashi, a Japanese Chef who first started Santa Ramen, serving classic ramen. Then he opened Ramen Dojo, focusing on spicy, stamina-building ramen. And then he open Ramen Parlor as an option to serve up some alternative ramen with different ingredients, particularly seafood. Overall, I was probably most interested in Ramen Dojo, but that wasn’t in the cards: Ramen Dojo wasn’t open that night. So we wandered over to Ramen Parlor to check it out.
On my last trip to San Mateo, I met up with my former coworker Larry and his wife Yoko who took me out to for Yakitori. I’ve always loved the concept of Yakitori. Literally meaning “grilled chicken”, the concept started as street food (with fresh skewers of grilled chicken served up with a sauce), but, especially in the US, “yakitori” has grown to include a rather large variety of grilled meats and vegetables, usually served in a sit-down restaurant with a variety of Japanese sides. San Mateo has several well-regarded Yakitori places, and my hosts decided to take me out to try Kokko.
One of the things I learned long ago about living in New England is that certain phrases should immediately make your “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!” alarm go off. One of those is most any sentence containing both “New England” and “Barbecue”. Also up there is “New England” and “Mexican”. Really dangerous is the combination of “New England” and “Authentic Mexican” food, since, while I’ve been to the occasional good actual Mexican place (including El Rincon down in Manchester, or when they have their A game going, Gusanoz, although for the latter I usually need to budget extra for the extra margarita I’ll need to wash down the bad service), usually I find an “Authentic” place to be dismal Tex-Mex at best, sub-Old El Paso at worse. But every once in a while I do stumble across a place that’s actually putting in a good effort, and not just dishing out queso-flavored disappointment. So, on that note, I introduce you to El Rodeo.
You know, I get a lot of odd requests in life. One of the odder ones in recent history was, “Hey, can you send me a bunch of photos I can use for a training funeral?”. Since yes, among the various colorful people I know are not only legislators, lawyers, professors, Lords, and actual rocket scientists, but funeral home directors as well. My answer was, of course, sure. I assembled an eclectic selection of photos of myself (you know, like the one with the horse mask, or the bathtub one, or the creepy cowboy one) and thus, the legend of Paul Crawford was born, a man who bears a shocking resemblance to myself, but, alas, departed this world late last year. Sniff. It’s like I know the guy. In any case, part of the deal was that I would get pie (dutifully delivered via Fedex), and, if I found myself in Florida, dinner. Thus, on a somewhat recent trip to Daytona for testing at Embry-Riddle, I found myself with an opportunity to meet up with my friend Leslie, have a nice dinner at De La Vega with her and her husband, and raise a glass in memory of poor Paul Crawford.
Every once in a while, it’s nice to see a local place start to hit their stride and become successful. In this case, I’m talking about Pierogi Me. While there’s a modest Polish population here (particularly in Claremont, NH), Polish food is mostly limited to the occasional special event (like Polish Night at The Old Courthouse), so I’m always on the lookout for opportunity to find some Polish sausages or pierogi. So when I first heard about Pierogi Me, finding their product involved a bit of a hunt, since they made the pierogi in their own kitchen and primarily sold pierogi at several farmers markets, the Killdeer Farm Stand, and, most easily found, the freezer case at Dan and Whit’s General Store. Alas, about half of the times I went to try and get them, I’d find that the word had gotten out, and there wouldn’t be anything left. But then, an important change happened: they opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant.